Bharata Natyam in Baroda
by Sapna Rangaswamy, Baroda

Feb 2001

Bharata Natyam, the most popular dance form of South India has received universal appreciation as one of the subtlest expressions of Indian culture.

Barodians today are quite familiar with Bharata Natyam, the classical dance form of Tamilnadu. In every corner of Baroda and in many housing societies, dance classes abound. Thousands of young children learn Bharata Natyam from different teachers in this city. Each and every dance school appears to have developed its own dance style.

Rema Shrikant, at the Ellora Centre for Performing Arts, is a trained danseuse. Her school is twenty years old. Rema has been trained in the Pandanallur as well as the Kalakshetra forms. She has also learnt some nuances of the Tanjore dance style. She says that she takes the good aspects of each style while composing her own dance items. The Pandanallur, for instance, is like a romantic poem - simple, enjoyable and leisurely, almost langurous, while the Kalakshetra style is more energetic and robust, has more body movement and contains a lot of geometry in it.

Rema says that even though there is a combining of styles here, she does not, while teaching kids of tender age, play with the purity of the dance form. Rema is quite clear that while teaching young children 'MARGAM' , the basic dance right from Alarippu to Tillana, she adopts the same method as taught to her as a student. But while creating dance dramas, she ensures that she does not go beyond the borders of Bharata Natyam. Here she combines all the three dance styles. In fact, she even combines Yoga with her dance. To enable the local audiences to enjoy and appreciate her dance, Rema has even choreographed some dance pieces set to Gujarati and Hindi poems. She remembers composing certain items with Hindustani Ragas. This definitely created awareness amongst the local crowd and enhanced appreciation too.

That apart, Rema insists on maintaining the purity of the dance form in order to pass on this treasure to the next generation. "Changes and experiments are always exciting", says Rema , "but within the cognizable borders of Bharata Natyam only".

"I do not just teach dance, I develop personalities." She says that she believes in the development of a whole human being, more humble towards mankind, able to appreciate the finer things of life and possessing confidence, discipline and respect. Rema teaches students the theory of dance. To her senior students, she teaches the art of composing pieces. "All my productions are the result of team work and I am proud of my students", says a beaming Rema.

Guru Shri Kubernath Tanjorkar, at 82, is the oldest dance teacher in Baroda. He has been teaching at Baroda since 1947 and is trained in the Pandanallur style but today what he teaches is known as the Tanjore style. He says that the Tanjore style lays emphasis on 'Abhinaya'. According to him, it is the purest dance style and is a 'solo' style. Ballet, or the dance drama was created to please foreigners who visited our country or when dance troupes travelled abroad.

When asked about the uniqueness of Tanjore Nritya Shala's teaching, he says that it is the Shringar Bhava that takes the most important aspect here. "You will notice it in our students' eyes. Our Jatis are short and the rhythm is quite fast."

Kubernath Tanjorkar does not believe in changing the dance form. "How will it look if you perform Ras Garba set to Carnatic music or sing a Garba in Tamil ? Similarly Bharata Natyam will look odd when set to Gujarati or Hindi. Whatever we do, we do according to the pure Tanjore style". To his students he explains the South Indian compositions in Gujarati, Hindi or Marathi. He helps them to develop a sense of rhythm and concentrates on development of their eye expressions from the very beginning.

Today Shri Kubernath is not physically able to direct his students but under his guidance his son Rameshbhai Kubernath teaches at their Waghodia Road classes as well as at Shrinagar Society in Akota.

Yet another school, the Vinay Nritya Shala, also at Akota, is run by Shri Vinod Vaidya. Vinodbhai who follows the Kalakshetra dance style, says that Bharata Natyam has crossed the borders of Tamilnadu and is now a national dance form. He says "I don't believe that it is only the Tamil language that can beautify this dance form." He has composed most of his dance items in Gujarati and Hindi and says that this makes it easily understood by the local crowd and thus gains more popularity. Vinay Nritya Shala is affiliated to the A B G M U University.

Baroda is fortunate enough to have a Faculty of Performing Arts which provides a course leading to a Degree in Performing Arts. Bharata Natyam is one of the subjects offered. Parul Shah, a Professor here, says that the course is just like at school, with each standard looked after by a different teacher. So the faculty does not claim to follow only a particular style. But by and large, they follow the Kalakshetra style. Parul herself follows the same style while teaching students but while creating something new, she allows her imagination to fly and whatever she thinks appropriate to her composition, she uses that. She has composed Varnam and Padam in Gujarati. "To me Bharata Natyam means Bharat's (India's) dance. It is no longer a Tamilnadu dance form only", says Parul.

"We eat idli -sambhar here in Gujarat which is very different from what we get at Chennai. But we like it. It is the same with Chinese food or for that matter with pizzas. We change the preparation to suit our taste. There is nothing wrong with changing a bit here and there. People then tend to understand things a little better." Parul is working on a new MARGAM in Gujarati, one on Narmada and the other on Sayaji Rao. Back at the Faculty, the MARGAM is the regular one with no changes.

The Faculty of Performing Arts has a 4 year diploma course for younger students. Those who join after their 12th standard do a degree course for three years. They can also go on to do a Master's course or Ph.D. Parul says that at the Faculty, thorough knowledge is provided along with exposure to different dance forms.

So if you are in Baroda and want to learn how to dance, you know where to go. Decide what suits you most and what you enjoy the most. The choice is absolutely yours..